Assessing economic damages resulting from natural disasters to a livestock industry requires a different approach than for row crops. Yield losses from hay production are accounted for in a similar manner to crop damage estimates as hay production may suffer a reduction in yield, but also a decrease in the number of annual cuttings.  Prices from USDA AMS’ Market News Service are used to calculate an economic estimate of the total decrease in hay production.  Hay prices are also important to value the lost grazing potential associated with pastures. Parish (county) Extension agents provide state specialists with information on the number of acres and days that grazing was impacted which are then used to place an economic value on the lost grazing potential through increased feeding of purchased hay. Losses are assumed using typical stocking rates and consumption of forages per cow.

Reduced grazing potential and hay production are only two aspects of livestock disaster estimates. Direct impacts on livestock production are also assessed through forced liquation of breeding stock above normal culling rates. The value of those breeding stock which are forced to be liquidated is calculated, but this only accounts for part of the economic loss. Should producers who cull above normal rates wish to replenish their breeding stock, they typically have to pay higher prices than what the animal sold for. The difference per head between the replacement value and the cull value is used to determine the economic estimate for forced liquidation of breeding stock. Higher than normal mortality is also accounted for in calculated economic damages for all classes of cattle. 

The drought that Louisiana experienced in 2011 added a new dimension to calculation of livestock damage estimates. Previous experiences with natural disasters had not led to accounting for early weaning of calves to help maintain available pasture for mature females. Extension agents provided state specialists with estimates on the number of calves that were early weaned and the average difference in sale weight due to drought compared to normal weaning weights. Using information from USDA AMS’ Market News Service and selected auction markets in Louisiana, the reduced value of calves sold was calculated. 

As in other states, one challenge that has arisen in developing economic damages for the cattle industry has been a lack of price information. Market News Service cattle prices for Louisiana have not been available since September 2010. The Market News Service is a partnership between USDA AMS and participating states to document prices and transaction volumes of agricultural commodities. Limited and sporadic pricing information is available from selected auction markets in Louisiana through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s (LDAF) website. However, available prices are self-reported by the sale barns and may not cover the bulk of sales as with the Market News Service. Additionally, those barns that self-report prices through the LDAF website do not offer unbiased, third party verification which USDA AMS’ Market News Service provides. The result of using prices from biased sources is economic damage estimates that are less reliable than for other agricultural commodities. As sale barns infrequently post prices, important information on the number of head liquidated pre- and post-disaster and price of animals sold is lost.